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General Information for Iraklio

Iraklio The name of Iraklio (Herakleion), occupies Central Crete. It is named after the capital and administrative city of Crete, Iraklio, which is the fifth largest city (pop. 127,000) in Greece. It is an industrial extremely busy center which lacks the charm of Rethymno and Hania. It is a dynamic wealthy town, however, which boasts the highest (per capita) income in the country.

Besides its most popular attraction, Knossos, where the Minoan sites are located, the nome of Iraklio and the city itself have numerous interesting locations to visit. Do not forget your comfortable shoes - traffic is horrific- the walking will exhaust you. Visit the Venetian fountains: Morosini (or Lion Fountain), Bembo and Priouli (or Delimarkou). Walk to the Venetian castle, Koules, at the entrance of the old harbor and admire the attractive carved lions which are decorating the Basilica of San Marco.

Ascend to Martinego for an imposing view of Iraklio and see Nikos Kazantzakis’ grave. A must visit to the museums:
The Archeological Museum: the second largest in the country and one of the most significant internationally. It consists of twenty rooms and houses collections from the Neolithic period to the 4th-century A.D. Everything is chronologically exhibited and if you are an admirer of the Minoan Civilization you will undoubtedly be fascinated with the incredible exhibits and since only one time is not enough for all to be seen and admired, it is certain the museum will be visited more than once. Not to be missed: Room 3, where the famous Phaestos Disc and the Kamares pottery vases are exhibited and Room 14, where the superb frescoes from Knossos: the Procession, the Dolphin (from the Queen’s room) the Griffin (of the Throne Room), the fantastic Bull-leaping and La Parisienne, among others, are displayed.(Tel: 226.092/226.470.) Historical and Ethnographic Museum.

All kinds of historical items - dating from early Christianity to Modern times - include El Greco’s (Dominicos Theotokopoulos) only painting exhibited in Crete. The first floor houses a recontructed library of the author Nikos Kazantzakis, where personal letters, manuscripts and books are displayed. On the second floor you will admire beautiful embroideries, jewelry and all kinds of crafts.(Tel: 283.219)

Archeological sites Knossos Just a little over 3 miles from Iraklio the island’s great attraction, Knossos, is located, where architecture of superlative magnitude was developed. The palaces there comprised an entire city. The biggest palace of Minoan Crete is still retaining its unaltered distinct characteristics.

According to mythology Minos - the first king, was the son of Zeus and Europe. He had a powereful fleet which enabled him to subjugate the Cyclades, Meghara and Athens, while he had developed great trade with Egyptand other important ports of the Orient.

Minos’ wife, Passiphae, gave birth to the Minotaur - a hideous monster half-man and half-bull, the result of Poseidon’s revenge towards Minos who had invoked his wrath by not sacrificing the magnificent white bull that Poseidon had sent for that purpose.

Poseidon took his revenge by making Passiphae fall in love with the holy bull, thus the Minotaur was born. King Minos in order to hide the hideous monster, invited Daedalus - the architect and artist - to build the labyrinth and demanded from the subservient Athenians to pay an annual homage of seven youths and seven maidens to satisfy the insatiate monster. The Athenians enranged by Minos’ demands were at his mercy till the hero Thesseus - posing as one of the sacrificial youths - sailed to Crete determined to kill the Minotaur.

While there, he fell in love with the king’s daughter Ariathne - who helped him (after he promised to take her with him afterwards). The trick was to unwind the ball of twine Ariathne had given him in order to locate the monster through the winding corridors of the labyrinth and retrace back his steps after the slaying of the Minotaur. Upon the completion of his mission, Thesseus, fled Crete taking Ariathne with him and they married. While on the island of Naxos, though, Thesseus abandoned her and left for Athens. On his return he forgot to change the black sails of his boat to white (as he had promised to do if victorious). His father king Aegeus, believing that his son had been eaten by the Minotaur, killed himself falling off the hill, and thus, the myth goes on, it is how the Aegean Sea got its name.

Knossos, having population of one hundred thousand, was the major centre of the Minoan civilization, it was destroyed repeatedly, the definitive end, however, came with Santorini’s destructive earthquake of 1450 B.C. Sir Arthur Evans, the British archeologist, began excavations in 1900 and he was spellbound by his discovery of the main structure of the palace. Almost 35 years later and spending a great amount of his own fortune he began reconstructing and restoring the minoan palace, thus, creating a superb site, for which some of Evans’ detractors haste to accuse him of being too imaginative at the expense of historical accuracy.

The complex consists of high-rise structures with stately facades, vibrant coatings, frescoes and painted columns. The entrance takes us into a large flag stone courtyard with three elevated paved corridors. One of them called the Procession corridor (where the processions were taking place), leads to the western propylaeum, another one towards the theatrical area.
Following the long corridor (depicting a long procession of gift-bearing people) you enter the central palace.

Things to see at the complex: Great Palace of Knossos, the Labyrinth design which includes numerous corridors, the majestic throne room sancuaries, ceremonial rooms, royal quarters (adorned by beautiful frescoes, can be seen in their original form at the Archeological Museum); storerooms, the room of the Giant Pithos; the House of Dionysos, with lovely mosaic floors; the Small Palace; Minos’ Tomb and the Royal Villa.
A meticulous look, will convince you of the foresight of a sophisticated, advanced society: the placing of light wells throughout the area; the first drainage system in the world and the connection of rooms to various passages, hallways, light wells and verandas, provided a heating or cooling system (the first again central heating and air-conditioning... among other firsts).

Phaestos, another Minoan site, is located approximately 38 miles southwest of Iraklio. It is built on a hill and its palace is comparable of that of Knossos. It is not, however, as complex and meandering. Due to its height, the site is offering an awesome view of Mt. Ida and the fertile Messara plain. The Italian Archeological School, conducted excavations at the start of the 20th century and the findings were remarkable. The most famous (exhibited at the Archeological Museum of Iraklio) is the Pheastos Disc. Since Sir Arthur Evans did not get involved with Phaestos, the site has not been reconstructed.

Phaestos was inhabited since the neolithic period and later was ruled by Minos’ brother Rathamathys. The palace is estimated to have been built around 1900 B.C. and it was totally ruined around 1450 B.C. Approximately 2 miles from Phaestos the ruins of the royal summer villa are located and several interesting findings from that area are housed now in the Archeological Museum.

Malia, the third and smallesτ Minoan site, was excavated in 1922 and brought to light a - similar to the Knossos and Phaestos - Minoan Palace, where another brother of Minos, Sarpithon, ruled. That also was built in 1900 B.C. and was ruined in 1450 B.C. This site is the only cultural relief in the east coast of Iraklio, which has become one of the most popular package - tourist attractions.

Seashores: (around Iraklio) Beaches close to the city are off-limits to swimmers. Choose the municipal beaches: Karterou, Florida, Tomprouk, Vaghia and Linto. Most of the water sports are available in all the beaches of Iraklio. Many surrounding villages offer lovely sandy beaches like Aghia Pelaghia (15 miles from Iraklio) known for its calm clear waters; Klathistos, inside a verdant - with plane, orange and lemon trees - valley; Phothele, the village where El Greco was born in 1545 (18 miles from Iraklio). In the eastern mountainside there is Tylisos which in classical times was an independent city. Among the many villages and settlements, Hani Kokini (8 miles) is singled out for being a beautiful coastal community with many hotels, restaurants and entertainment clubs.

There, inside the sea, you can see the ruins of an ancient colony which it is estimated by archeologists that it was the place where the ships of the Minoan Period were built. Another verdant tourist resort (appr. 20 miles from Iraklio) is Statitha offering lovely beaches and modern hotel complex infrastucture, where you will find many restaurants, bars and cafes.